Copd Complications Signs Symptoms

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a term for a cluster of lung conditions that cause airway obstruction. COPD cannot be cured, but COPD symptoms can be improved and lessened by medication and lifestyle changes.

Signs and Symptoms of COPD

Shortness of breath is probably the most common sign of COPD. This may make a person feel as if he can’t get enough air into his lungs. Actually, however, the shortness of breath is caused by the lungs’ inability to exhale.

COPD damages the tubes and air sacs in the lungs, which causes them to lose the elasticity needed to expel stale air. Stale air left in the lungs makes them work harder to get enough oxygen in and all the carbon dioxide out.

Other symptoms of COPD include:

  • chronic coughing
  • coughing up cloudy and discolored mucus
  • tightness of the chest
  • wheezing (high-pitched sound produced when lung elasticity has been lost).

Signs of Advanced COPD

When COPD enters advances stages, symptoms become more severe and include:

  • When COPD damages tiny blood vessels on the inner lining of airways, they are sometimes broken. Coughing up blood can then result.Another consequence of destroyed blood vessels is that it blocks the flow of blood through the lungs. This, in turn, makes extra demands on the heart as it struggles to get blood to flow through the lungs. Right heart failure results if the heart cannot deal with the difficulty of the added stress.
  • Cyanosis, or bluish discoloration around the mouth and on the fingernails, is a sign of advanced COPD.
  • Weight loss sometimes occurs due to the increased energy needed to get enough oxygen. Activities become restricted because energy levels are sapped by weight loss.

COPD Symptom Confusion

Symptoms of COPD are sometimes confused with other conditions. The early stages of COPD symptoms are especially misinterpreted.

Asthma, aging or the need to quit smoking often exhibit similar symptoms and signs, so COPD symptoms can be misunderstood or misdiagnosed. Some commonly confused symptoms include:

  • Breathlessness: Breathlessness is sometimes attributed to getting older. When people get winded while participating in activities they enjoy, they often think they’re just getting older or are not in good shape. Of course, aging does mean some changes in energy levels and bodily strength, but normal aging patterns do not include COPD symptoms.
  • Asthma Symptoms: COPD can also be confused with asthma, as both conditions produce breathlessness and wheezing. However, COPD signs and symptoms are experienced daily, whereas asthma’s are periodic and fluctuate from day to day.
  • Smoking Effects: Smokers often experience symptoms of COPD and often develop COPD. However, just because a smoker has a cough or experiences shortness of breath doesn’t mean that he has COPD. Smokers, however, should consult a doctor if they experience COPD symptoms.

If confusing symptoms are present, doctors recommend getting a spirometry lung function test. This will help your health care provider determine whether COPD is present or whether another problem exists.


Brochert, Adam, MD (2000). Wheezing. Retrieved July 28, 2007, from the University of Illinois Medical Center: Health Library Web site:

Mayo Clinic (2007). COPD. Retrieved July 27, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

Patient Health International (n.d.). COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Retrieved July 28, 2007, from the Patient Health International Web site: